Samuel Sueiro: "For Henri de Lubac to do theology was to announce the faith."

The French Episcopal Conference has opened the process of beatification of Henri de Lubac. Samuel Sueiro, doctor in Theology and coordinator of the scientific committee in charge of the Spanish edition of his complete works, talks to us about the great French theologian.

Loreto Rios-April 29, 2023-Reading time: 7 minutes
Henri de Lubac

Henri de Lubac

On March 31, the French bishops voted to open the cause of beatification of the theologian Henri de Lubac (1896-1991). Ediciones Encuentro is currently working on the publication in Spanish of his complete works.

How did you become interested in Henri de Lubac?

I got to know H. de Lubac mainly while working on my doctoral thesis. I concentrated on one of his last works, unfinished by his own admission: The spiritual posterity of Joachim of Fiore. I was able to immerse myself in his archives and learn about his theological concerns. In the end, it was like peeking into the whole of his thought through a small window.

I admire the profound unity in his biography between the ideas he develops and the vocation he lives. Or, to put it another way, I think it is truly fortunate to have a witness like de Lubac: a great connoisseur of tradition who, from it, helps us to discern at every moment what God asks and what God gives us, for the Church and for the world.

And from the field of theology there is a phrase of his that has always resonated in me in a special way: "The true theologian," he says, "has the humble pride of his title of believer, above which he places nothing. For him, doing theology meant proclaiming the faith in dialogue with today's world, and to do so he had to look at the great tradition, discern the issues at stake, but above all be a believer, open to accept the life that God offers us.

Henri de Lubac is one of the most relevant intellectuals of the 20th century. What challenges have you encountered when translating him?

There were already quite a few translated books by Henri de Lubac in Spanish. We have had many of them for many years. But it is true that Ediciones Encuentro was considering the possibility of making a translation of the critical edition of the Complete Works of Henri de Lubac. A collection launched in French in 1998 that aims to reprint everything that Henri de Lubac had published, but accompanied by introductory studies, notes, explanations, indexes... The usual instruments of the critical edition of an author.

Right now the complete work is planned in 50 volumes, of which thirty are well advanced. Encuentro's editorial project is centered on this new edition. There is a scientific committee that endorses the collection and works on the different volumes, so that each case is evaluated: if in some titles the Spanish translation we already have is good, we try to buy the rights or revise it; if not, we order a new one and revise it, etc. In this sense, perhaps these are the main challenges.

There is a very hard work of rereading and adaptation of the critical apparatus, reviewing each reference -always very numerous in the case of an author like H. de Lubac, the fruit of an impressive erudition-. Basically, it is a matter of helping the reader and the Spanish-speaking researcher. That is why it is a slow work. In this sense, Ediciones Encuentro has made a commitment to one of the great theologians of the 20th century that is a great legacy for the 21st.

Which of your works would you recommend to today's readers? Could you mention one in particular that has had a special relevance for you?

As I said, the panorama of the complete work adds up to fifty titles. Choosing one among fifty is frankly very difficult. Even so -as it is a question of taking a risk-, I would mainly opt for two. The first is Catholicism. Social aspects of dogma. It is his first great book and, for many, his great programmatic work, because it contains the germ of the great intuitions that Henri de Lubac will develop as he faces the various circumstances through which his biography will pass.

Approach Catholicism is to rediscover in the great wellsprings of the patristic and medieval tradition those fresh waters in which to immerse oneself and from which to drink in order to move forward. It is to enter into that great potential of the Christian tradition, capable of showing - as he says - the social aspects, which are not at all fictitious, but which weave a communion with God and, therefore, with others, unceasingly fruitful. On a personal note, the second book that I would highlight, in addition to Catholicismis its Meditation on the Church. It was originally conceived as a series of conferences for the formation of the clergy at the end of the 1940s. The book was sent to press in 1950, although due to various circumstances it was not published until three years later.

If we compare, for example, the chapters, themes and expressions that we find in Meditation on the Church with the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium on the Church we discover an astonishing harmony. Between one text and the other there is more than a decade of distance and, nevertheless, both share really similar intuitions and approaches. Because they place us before an understanding of the Church that today may sound very commonplace -thank God-, but which at the time implied a novel and necessary approach, to understand the Church as mystery, as mediation, sacrament... Also from its own vocation, from the vocation of knowing itself to be a community chosen by a God who wants to count on us, who does not want to be a God without us.

St. John XXIII appointed Lubac as a member of the Preparatory Commission for the Second Vatican Council. What is the relationship of Lubac's thought to the Council?

In the summer of 1960, half in passing, Lubac learned that he had been appointed by John XXIII as an expert advisor to the Council's Preparatory Commission. His work is very difficult to pinpoint if we want to look for it in a specific text or passage, but scholars who have analyzed this question have first perceived a great harmony between Lubac's main intuitions and many of the Council's ideas. Lubac had to work not only in the preparation, but later John XXIII appointed him advisor to the Council. Once it began, he belonged to the advisory commission of the Council and had to work on many texts.

To stick to the four major constitutions, it is easy to see how they are in harmony with the text of Lumen gentium -as I have just pointed out, not to mention with Dei Verbum -whose commentary is one of the most valuable to this text, the position of the Church before the modern world reflected in the famous Scheme XIII -which would give rise to Gaudium et spes- even some great experts such as J. A. Jungmann, who worked on the first approved constitution, have been involved in this process.Sacrosanctum Concilium-They recognize the Lubacian imprint on the theological relationship between the Eucharist and the Church.

But also in other documents we can find this fundamental harmony between his theology and the conciliar magisterium: atheism or dialogue with other religions are themes where the convergence is total. To use a very eloquent expression of Joseph Ratzinger, in his opinion, perhaps H. de Lubac was the most influential theologian in the "mentality" of the Council Fathers. He was not the theologian in vogue, one of those who made the most statements to the press, and nevertheless, in the mentality that discerned within the classroom how to propose the faith at the height of the times, the influence of Henri de Lubac was certainly decisive.

It should not be forgotten that Lubac was over sixty-five years old when the Council began and had a mature body of work behind him. Paul VI himself, for example, had confessed to being a great reader of Henri de Lubac before becoming Pope. He never concealed his admiration for Lubac's witness. Even when he was Pope, he did not lack occasions to mention him expressly. I honestly believe that, without the theological efforts of people like Henri de Lubac and others of his generation, it would not have been possible to have such a fruitful work as the Second Vatican Council.

You were a friend of Ratzinger and St. John Paul II. What can you tell us about this friendship, both intellectually and personally?

In the elaboration of some conciliar documents, I think especially on the occasion of the famous Scheme XIII, H. de Lubac shared many working sessions with the then Archbishop of Krakow.Karol Wojtyła- and from there a rich friendship was forged. From that time on, Wojtyła himself asked him for some forewords to his books, and he was a great promoter of the translation of Lubac's works into Polish. The relationship was woven especially during the Council.

When, many years later, in 1983, he created him a cardinal, there is a colorful anecdote, which is collected in the second volume of the Works published by Encuentro -Paradox and mystery of the Church-I would like to share an anecdote - as I say - of a conversation around the table between John Paul II and Henri de Lubac, acknowledging each other's work on the conciliar texts. Certainly there was a theological friendship, so to speak. They were well acquainted with each other's thinking and there is a mutual influence. Of his relationship with Ratzinger I have already mentioned his eloquent conviction about his influence on the mentality of the conciliar fathers.

But Ratzinger himself has confessed on several occasions how the book Catholicism marked a milestone for him in his theological elaboration, already from his time as a theology student: to see that there was a way of thinking about the faith that returned to the great tradition and that did not get entangled in questions that were sometimes so dry because they were detached from the more spiritual side of the faith... After the Council, as a member of the International Theological Commission and other circles such as the journal CommunioRatzinger, for example, always confessed his admiration and his debt to Lubacian thought.

What is the status of your beatification process and what steps are to be expected now?

First of all, I believe that he is to be welcomed as good news. He is perhaps the only recent contemporary theologian on the road to the altars. It is a work that had been initiated some years ago, especially by the then Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who, being himself a seminarian in Paris, often visited Lubac and was able to immerse himself in his theology at his hand.

As Archbishop of Lyon, I believed that undertaking this discernment on the person of H. de Lubac was a debt owed to the diocese itself, because it was the great city around which Henri de Lubac's teaching and the first years of his theological elaboration developed. This is how this process began. Various testimonies were collected from people who knew Henri de Lubac. Henri de Lubac closely. I know that among them the testimony of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was compiled and that it was one of the most eloquent, if I may say so.

In order to begin the cause, the French Episcopal Conference has given the green light to proceed. For the time being, we will be reviewing his life, trying to detect his heroic virtues to see if in his doctrine as well as in his life we perceive a clear path of holiness. Let us hope that this will continue. I know that from the International Association Cardinal Henri de Lubac we are working not only for the diffusion of his work with scientific rigor, but also to bring forward this good news, as is the eventual beatification of Henri de Lubac.

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